Mirror Back with Birds and Animals in Repoussé

Period: Tang dynasty (618–907)

Date: 8th century

Culture: China

Medium: Silver

Dimensions: Diam. 9 11/16 in. (24.6 cm)

Classification: Mirrors

Credit Line: Gift of Ernest Erickson Foundation, 1985

Accession Number: 1985.214.22


This mirror back, a thin sheet of silver with repoussé designs of animals, birds, and floral scrolls in high relief against a ringmat ground, was originally inlaid into the backside of a bronze mirror. The decoration has been divided into three registers. The outermost register is the narrowest and consists of a continuous scrolling vine. This register is separated from the middle register by a ridge decorated with a bordered sawtooth pattern. The middle register, which is nearly twice the width of the outer register, is filled with a counterclockwise procession of twelve mythical beasts: three pairs of feng-huang, or phoenixes, interspersed with three pairs of fanciful felines. The birds, depicted in various poses of strutting or running, are differentiated, male and female, by the presence or absence of topknots. Each pair of felines likewise consists of one animal with a full tail preceded by one with a tufted tail. Lotus blossoms and curling lines fill the interstices. A convex ridge separates this register from the large, inner register, which contains six more felines, again differentiated by full or tufted tails and by the presence or absence of curled manes. The animals move in a counterclockwise direction, clinging or stepping gingerly on the curling tendrils of a pomegranate that emanates from the center of the mirror in six branches, each of which culminates in a single fruit. A twelve-petaled lotus blossom encircles the central domed suspension loop.